Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros

Published by Quill Tree Books

Summary:  Isaac and Marco are neighbors and best friends, but could hardly be more different: Isaac is a gifted basketball player who struggles with schoolwork, while Marco aces every test but is small and unathletic.  One thing they have in common is complicated relationships with their fathers.  Isaac’s mom has forced his dad to move out due to a drinking problem.  Marco constantly feels like he is a disappointment to his sports-crazy father, who is remarried with a stepson and hardly ever gets in touch.  The two tell the story of their early middle school days in alternating voices, as Marco becomes determined to make the basketball team, and Isaac focuses on becoming a better student.  The final showdown at a basketball tournament allows them to help each other and to come to terms with who their fathers really are.  292 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  While this follow-up to the Belpré Award-winning Efrén Divided is about Latino characters, the story is quite different, focusing more on issues that many kids will relate to: school, sports, friends, and family.  The alternating points of view allow readers to share the perspectives of both main characters, who are both trying to overcome shortcomings with hard work and a tremendous amount of heart.

Cons:  Both main characters were almost too good to be true for a couple of sixth graders.  It also seemed unrealistic that Marco would be able to master enough basketball skills in a week to make the team and that Isaac would ace Marco’s honors math homework through sheer hard work and determination to help his friend.

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